Henry George Fifty Years Ago and To-Day
[An Address delivered at the Banquet of the Henry
George Foundation, 3 September, 1926. Reprinted from Land and
Freedom, Vol. XXVI, No.5, September-October, 1926]
A FEW blocks from here thirty-seven years ago a dinner to Henry
George was given in the Bullitt Building. There were 426 present. I
had the honor to be Toastmaster. Two clergymen made addresses; one
from Cincinnati and one from Henry, 111. Ministers who openly
advocated the doctrines of Henry George were rare in those days and
both were given prominent places on the programme. Both apparently
mistook the occasion and while their addresses were eloquent, they
sounded like funeral sermons and had a depressing effect on the
digestions of the diners.
The second speaker was a wealthy merchant, A. H. Stephenson, one of
the ablest, most devoted, and most self-sacrificing of the early
followers of Henry George in Philadelphia, who in order to do more
effective work, took a course at the National School of Elocution and
Oratorv which he completed just before this dinner. His speech was the
first he made after his graduation. It was a very serious affair for
him and he made it a very serious one for us.
It seemed to be my duty to lighten the spirits of those present by
telling stories at which the diners laughed. Henry George laughed with
the others, but after each story he leaned over to me and said, "The
application, the application." In each case I lugged in an
application by the ears but I never again attempted to tell a story in
Henry George's presence without having an application handy.
He had a keen sense of humor but he did not want even a story wasted.
He had a horror of waste and it was the waste involved in our foolish
attempts to defy the laws of nature and of nature's God, the needless
and useless suffering and waste of human lives, which inspired him to
write his immortal works.
What manner of man was this who rose over night from poverty and
obscurity to world-wide fame?
Fifty years ago there lived in San Francisco a man of 37 whose life
was thought by many to be a hopeless failure. He had sought gold in
California and in Canada but failed. He had been a sailor without
rising from the forecastle. He had earned a precarious living setting
type. Had failed as part owner of a job-printing plant. Had
established a paper only to lose i t after four years of hard work
because his conscience was scrupulous and his enemies lacked scruple.
At 37 to support his family, he was reduced to soliciting a political
job and was made State Inspector of Gas Meters. The brilliant company
there of newspaper men and authors (many of national fame) called him,
some carelessly, some contemptuously, "little Henry George."
He set himself the task of writing a book on political economy, the
Dismal Science, though even with great names attached such books
seldom sold a thousand copies.
He deliberately challenged and sought to overthrow the greatest of
monopolies, the monopoly of the earth.
Can you imagine deed more daring? Asoul more knightly? Here one man,
poor and alone, flung down his gage to the great ones of the earth;
set his puny strength to overthrow a wrong hoary with antiquity,
buttressed by the custom of ages. What hero of history or romance, of
fact or fiction, ever matched it?
Nor was it the valor of ignorance, for he had just felt the heavy
hand of privilege. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he
laid down his life for his friend." Yet this man laid his life on
the altar for strangers, for the poor and weak, the friendless, the
oppressed of all the earth.
His only university had been the University of Hard Knocks, his books
were men, his college the printer's case. His book completed, his
friends helped him set the type as he could find a publisher in no
other way. Ten years later, the unknown San Francisco printer was
elected Mayor of the greatest of American cities (though as afterward
admitted by Tammany men, he was counted out) and "Progress and
Poverty" had already sold more than a million copies.
Why? Because this printer dipped his pen in life, his words throbbed
with sympathy for suffering and thrilled with the logic of truth. He
taught that men's miseries are due to man-made laws, never to divine
law. That the ignorance which shelters in schools, the crime which
lurks in the shadow of churches; famine amid full granaries, poverty
in plenty, are all due to men's laws which ignore and defy the divine
intent. That to abolish poverty and tame the ruthless passions of
greed, we need only to align men's laws with Nature's.
Forty years ago I crowded into the Old Chickering Hall, 17th St. and
Broadway, which was jammed with an enthusiastic audience of business
and professional men advocating the election of Henry George as Mayor
of New York. Professor David B. Scott of the University of New York,
closed an eloquent address by saying, "Theycall us cranks. What
is a crank? Webster defines a crank as an instrument that effects
As the applause died away there were persistent calls for "McGlynn."
My brother and I, strangers from Philadelphia, were apparently the
only persons in that vast audience who did not know McGlynn. By
standing on tiptoe in the upper gallery, jammed against the wall, I
could see the magnificent head and body of Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn as
he walked to the center of the stage and held up his hand for silence.
He began "Our Father Which Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.
They Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven."
Then his voice was drowned out by tumultous applause which shook the
walls and lasted, it seemed to me, for more than ten minutes before
the speaker could proceed.
I do not know which astounded me most; that any speaker, even a
priest, should begin a political speech by a quotation from the Lord's
Prayer, or the instantaneous recognition by every person in that
audience of his meaning and application. When his voice could again be
heard, he went on, "That is why I, a f rocked priest, stand
tonight upon a political platform to urge the election of Henry George
as Mayor of New York, because the triumph of his ideas means the
bringing about of conditions under which it will be possible to do
God's will on earth asitis done in Heaven." Never before, or
since, have I listed to such eloquence. I did not then know that he
spoke under threat of suspension; that Archibishop Corrigan had twice
prohibited him from speaking at that meeting. The suspension came the
next day. Excommunication followed on the fourth of the following July
on his refusal to recant or apologize.
That was '86. In '91 appeared the Encylical letter on the "Condition
of Labor" by Pope Leo 13th. Henry George stopped work on the "Science
of Political Economy" to write a reply, which was published under
the title of the "Condition of Labor." After the English
edition was printed and bound, its distribution was held up for some
thirty days. I did not know why, until at Henry George's house one day
he asked me if I could read French, and on my telling him I could, he
gave me a letter which he had just received from the publisher of the
Italian edition of the "Condition of Labor", which said that
the first copy, handsomely bound, had that day been handed to the
Pope's secretary and that he had his promise that the Pope would read
every word of it, or that he would read every word of it to the Pope
A few weeks later the Catholic world was astounded at the news that
the Pope was sending Monsignor Satolli as a personal representative to
America with authority transcending that of the American Cardinals and
Archbishops. On his arrival the first thing Monsignor Satolli did was
to send for Dr. McGlynn and ask him to make a statement of the views
which Archbishop Corrigan had condemned. This statement reads very
much like a paraphrase of the "Condition of Labor." It was
submitted to a committee of distinguished theologians who were
professors at the Catholic University in Washington and they
unanimously reported to Monsignor Satolli, in writing, that there was
nothing in that Statement contrary to the doctrines of the Catholic
One of the main purposes of writing the "Condition of Labor"
had been accomplished and the Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn was restored to
his priestly functions. This is said to be the only case in the 1900
years of the history of that church, in which a priest once
excommunicated has been restored to his duties without recantation and
We are nearer complete success today than we have dared dream. Have
you ever seen a dam go down? It stands today as it has stood for
generations, crowned by sky-aspiring trees whose sun kissed branches
spread wide and high. But their roots have rotted, and the slow
seepage of water through the spaces left by their decay has gradually
and slowly widened these spaces, crawfish creep in and while above the
dam seems as strong as ever it has really been honeycombed through and
through. A gentle rain begins as it has begun a million times before;
slowly the water, rises and without warning the dam crumbles,
disappears and the flood sweeps down?
So is it of the dam of prejudice, of custom, of privilege, of
inertia, which has kept from the thirsty desert plains below the
life-giving waters of freedom of opportunity to all.
I have had the privilege of editing articles on the "Henry
George We Knew" written by men from all over the earth; men most
varied in age, in character, in habits, in environment. Their views
are many-sided, kaleidoscopic; yet in one thing all agree. Whether
they knew Henry George in person or only through his books, he was to
all an inspiration to the highest and best in man.
In some forty years more than six million copies of Henry George's
books have been sold. They have been translated into every language,
even Japanese and Chinese. His words on Tolstoi's tongue illumined the
dark night of despotism in Russian and are the guide today of those
who seek sanity there; they gave cheer to Sun-Yat Sen and those who
helped him overthrow that most ancient of all empires, and are today
inspiring the Chinese republicans: and wherever in all the world is
suffering, oppression or tyranny, the gospel of Henry George offers
hope, consolation, cheer and inspiration.
But we are unworthy to be his disciples if we are satisfied merely to
pay lip service to his memory. "Come with me," said Richard
Cobden to John Bright, as he turned heart-stricken from a new-made
grave, "Come with me. There are in England women and children
dying of hunger, of hunger made by the laws; come with me and we will
not rest till we repeal those laws." So despite rotten boroughs,
a hereditary aristocracy and vested interests which seemed
all-powerful, the Corn Laws were repealed.
Yet, here in free America, most prosperous of nations, with boundless
wealth and opportunities beyond the powers of the imagination even
here are women and children dying of hunger, of hunger made by the
laws. To all here, to all in the wide world, we say "Come with us
and we will not rest till we have repealed those laws."